Despite ongoing public outreach campaigns and an increased willingness on the part of American mothers to try it, breastfeeding rates aren’t what they should be. Organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend exclusively breastfeeding for at least six months, but 70% of mothers don’t follow breastfeeding recommendations.
Previous research has linked breastfeeding to a number of short-term benefits, but proving the long-term value of breastfeeding has been more challenging. A new study published in Lancet Global Health offers insights into how breastfeeding affects children over a lifetime. The study, which followed infants for 30 years, found that the benefits of breastfeeding may last decades.
The Long-Lasting Benefits of Breastfeeding
The study was launched in Brazil in 1982, and tracked 5,914 newborns. Researchers logged whether and for how long babies were breastfed and when they began eating solid food. They also logged data about the babies’ families and lifestyles, including mothers’ educations, family incomes, babies’ birth weights, and other factors.
Thirty years later, researchers were able to locate and interview 3,493 of the study participants. They found that, even after controlling for other factors, children who had been breastfed for a year or longer had higher educational attainments, better IQ scores, and bigger incomes than those who were breastfed for a month or less.
Bernardo Lessa Horta, one of the study’s authors, emphasizes that breastfeeding isn’t the only factor that affects intelligence. The study was observational in nature, so it’s possible that researchers might have missed other relevant factors. Because the study establishes a clear correlation between breastfeeding, income, and IQ, though, its authors argue that public health authorities should continue to encourage breastfeeding.
Women who want to breastfeed sometimes struggle to get accurate information on breastfeeding. La Leche League offers comprehensive information, including tips on how to deal with common issues such as mastitis.
Though the CDC recommends breastfeeding for at least six months, it does not place a cap on how long mothers should breastfeed. The World Health Organization advises exclusive breastfeeding until six months, then continued supplemental breastfeeding until two years—or longer if both the mother and the child want to continue.
- Bakalar, N. (2015, March 17). Breast-feeding may have benefits decades later. Retrieved from http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/03/17/breast-feeding-may-have-benefits-decades-later/?_r=0
- Breastfeeding. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.who.int/topics/breastfeeding/en/
- Eisner, R. (n.d.). U.S. moms don’t breast-feed long enough. Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/Health/story?id=117395
- Lafrance, A. (2015, March 20). About that breastfeeding study. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/03/about-that-breastfeeding-study/388309/
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